Living Forever Might be an Option

Who doesn’t want to live forever? A lot of people, it seems. I’ve introduced the topic with friends and family, and many of them say they do not. They fear that life would get boring, or that future generations would suffer with so many immortal people around, using up all our resources. Others cite various religious concerns, or just feel that eternal life would be unnatural or taboo. I think that these fears are actually based on the current paradigm of aging: We see loved ones age, break down and lose their ability to live life with dignity. It’s hard to imagine life being otherwise.

In my opinion, not being able to think past our current life cycle long enough to even imagine immortality is a poor excuse. We can compare our lives now to the past quite easily, and in the process see that we’re already living to ages that our ancestors might have found “unnatural.” Only a few hundred years ago a 40-year-old man would have been considered quite old. A few thousand years ago the same man might have been considered old at 21. It is ironic that the same people who are avid consumers of technology—the same people who will stand in line waiting for the next iPhone—can’t, or won’t think of life-extension technology, as not only an option, but an inevitability. Technology, like the aforementioned iPhone, evolves exponentially. A scant few decades ago, we were talking on clunky bag phones in our cars while listening to our music on cassette tapes. Now your phone is in your pocket and synched with your car’s speakers, pumping out music from your own personal jukebox of thousands  of songs.

Aubrey de Grey, Chief Science Officer at SENS Foundation, in his TED Talk, admits that a future generation will have to decide if they want a lower birthrate or a higher death rate. When the current aging paradigm changes for the better, provided our eating and lifestyle choices improve,  with technology we will live longer and as the planet gets more populated at  what point do we have a population problem? At 7 billion people, now and according to a 1973 encyclopedia I threw  in a bon fire two summers ago, the population was 3.5 billion. That’s a doubling of humans in roughly forty years.

As a fan of technology, even I have been guilty of thinking the aging curve toward longer life may plummet, in my lifetime, and my generation may be in nursing homes sooner than retirement age– due to drugs, bad food, environmental pollution, genetically modified organisms,  and of course, general laziness. I get frightened that technology will increase but our health will continue to get worse and instead of healthy, scientifically advanced humans, we end up more like those big fatties on the space ship in the Disney animated film WALL-E.   Not having to move a muscle ruined their bodies and their self worth.

Improving our biology, living longer, and eventually being able to download one’s essence or a copy of one’s consciousness into a super computer is not only an idea explored in science-fiction, it’s an idea being tackled, dissected, and discussed, by many people in different areas of research and people from different backgrounds—from inventor, Ray Kurzweil, filmmaker and philosopher, Jason Silva, biomedical gerontologist,  Aubrey de Grey, the first professor of Cybernetics, Kevin Warrick, or philosopher Nick Bostrom, whom believes we already live in a simulation.

When I heard Mr. Kurzweil ask, “Will machines of human complexity make their own decisions, or will they just follow a program, albeit a very complex one,” I have to admit I thought about the Terminator films and an Issoc Avinov book.  I don’t pretend to be smart enough to know if a singularity is possible in my lifetime. But I can think of the tools we currently have that weren’t available a few short years ago. If you’re a baby boomer, you’ll remember having an attendant wash your windshield, check your oil and pump your gas at a filling station. From what I’ve been told, you weren’t allowed to handle the pumps back then. Now we swipe a debit card, fill our tank and leave with a receipt in hand—never entering the store, unless we want a snack or something to drink.

Nanobots are machines or robots nearly on the nanoscale or .1 to 10 meters and constructed of nanoscale or molecular components.  With large companies competing to master nanotechnology like some modern day alchemists–Northrop Grumman, General Electric, and Hewlett-Packard, to name a few–advances will be seen in the medical field, theater of  war, and of course computing.

Once we gain the ability to talk and interact with machines—using a device such as the google classes, augmenting our reality with a digital heads up display—our lives will benefit in unimaginable ways, throwing those old preconceived fears and ideas about the future out the window. Technology will continue to make our lives easier, doing less and less physical work.  Any physical human work can be benefitted by a computer tool, assisting with any tasks adding digital overlays and 3-d imaging, that will   envelope our reality, continually blurring the line between what’s a machine and what’s human.

What if money was all it took, money and a doctor visit—say a pill or a needle–to change how long one lives? If it were available right now, we’d read about it and look to see which famous people have tried it. Then we’d hope a few years would go by and the technology would become accessible to all, once the  price came down, much like those early  flat screen TV’s  priced at $15,000–out of reach of the typical consumer in the late 90s—and now less than $1,000. It would take years but eventually the masses would finally gain access to these advances. By this time culture could be celebrating these advances–or perhaps demonizing them—in an attempt to collectively decide how long humans should be allowed to live.

The technological singularity is believed to be possible, if you agree with Ray Kurzweil, around 2045. A merging of machine and human intelligence, in a time when machines actually become self aware and surpass human brain power.   Kurzweil claims nanobots will soon wipe out cancer, back up our memories, slow aging, and control our consciousness. I have to admit I think about the Terminator films as an archetypal tale of advancing technology’s dual edged sword and hope whatever intelligence surpasses us respects Issac Azimov’s three rules of robotics.

Most people have a personal cell phone they carry with them, even a cheap one like mine can access the internet—though without the capability of watching YouTube  videos—in a few clicks it surfs the net, sends and receives e-mails, make phone calls, and my favorite function: text messaging.  Texting is the modern day telegraph. 1n 1836 the first telegraph message was sent two miles. In the 1920s a ten word telegram could be sent for 20 to 60 cents—depending on the distance the message had to travel.  To get this telegram to its recipient you needed to call a telegraph office and recite the message you wanted delivered, or you could appear in person and write on a blank form to be converted into Morse code. We now have this ability to send notes back and forth, using personal devises, without physically going anywhere. The price was a factor, giving a telegraph message a shortened style, not too different from today’s abbreviated text messages. We can do this job on own without someone transcribing the message.

Some new cars can brake on their own when the cruise control is engaged and warn the driver with sound and light if a crash is being sensed by the vehicle. Beeping sounds can be heard from different sides of the vehicle, warning of obstructions and back up cameras allow you to use reverse without turning your head to physically see if anything is behind you. The urge to look behind you dulls after time as you continually use this technology. Many new cars lack keys to turn locks; absent in others is an ignition switch and the car comes alive, starting with a push of a button. We’ve all seen car commercials where the vehicle parallel parks itself, so what’s next? Will we one day not have to drive at all and be able to be fully immersed in our digital world as our vehicle handles all of the driving? We pump our own fuel. We write our own messages. We push start.

A few years ago people had slow internet connections, and texting was new and awkward with buttons you had to type a few times to make the correct letter combinations. Now we use kindles, iPads, we Skype, podcast and send video through social media with absolute ease. Toddlers are now photographers and filmmakers.

Everything is advancing and getting smaller.  Even the world feels smaller with how interconnected trade and social media allow all of us on earth to get ideas, physical and digital content, to each other quickly. Modern day grocery stores make eating in season, a choice, not a necessity. We can make one-click purchases online, swipe a credit card at a vending machine and rent a movie, just like you’d buy a  soda, chips, or candy.

Actor, and comedian Dave Foley spoke of a day when humans build a computer so smart that it would download a copy of reality and then wouldn’t know the difference between the copy and original. And if people can think up this type of scenario, then how do we know it didn’t already happen? Nick Bolstom says you wouldn’t know the difference between reality and a simulation.

Can we take our consciousness and store it somewhere else—forever, living out numerous fantasies in the digital universe? Eventually people will gain the ability to move our awareness off-site, if you will, copied and moved to a large super computer that has downloaded our memories, preserved them given us the ability to live out our lives in the digital space of unlimited possibility.

I Would gladly update my biological software, and if I could, run a heads up display similar to what we see in a first person shooting game, just so I could keep updated on my organs and their functioning, similar to when we hit a button in our vehicles checking the machines oil life.  How many people would take a vaccine with nanobots, or whatever the latest technology happened to be, if they gained the ability to monitor blood sugar levels, kidney functioning, heart rate and current cellular damage?  Living to be over 100 years may become common.  With the computer revolution moving into the world of biology, is where I envision the extra years of life becoming  more than possible; actually becoming a reality.  At some point, leaving the earth suit with a copy of your consciousness seems like an eventual step.

A universal wireless connection that all humans will connect to, sending their thoughts everywhere, is something I imagine google will invent.  We’ll look back at a time when we were scared to share our private thoughts, much like we did a few years ago when many people were nervous to do business over the internet with their credit card numbers —just like a time when people worried about sharing their social security numbers.

Not only does technology increase, exponentially, our acceptance, ease of use and interconnectedness, increases our reliance on technology, moving us towards a merger with machines.  Access to information is constantly evolving, becoming effortless to interact with.  No longer does one need to understand computers and code to copy info and send audio and video, bypassing numerous steps and spending a lot of time in the process.

Once our thoughts can be stored, accessed, and retrieved by anyone, forget passwords—future generations of people will be able to go for a ride in each other’s consciousness—and privacy becomes obsolete. Much like cloud storage became normal so quickly, future inventions undoubtedly yield advanced communication enhancements through new technologies. Using new platforms to recall info—whether our thoughts or someone else’s–might be immediately accessible, without performing a google search on a physical machine.  This kind of access might be some type of virtual display you’d scan through in your minds-eye, similar to flipping through apps the way we currently do on smart phones and tablets.

People are accustomed to the nursing home idea of getting older; using a walker or wheel chair, loosing hearing, and independence; then acquiescing at some point and taking the death plunge. It’s all been written for us, from birth to death. This is the pattern and everyone must follow it. I’d rather we fight aging, looking at aging differently, like Aubrey de Gray, and thinking more of death as a disease we haven’t cured yet. If we cure death or beat it back by 30 years as Mr. Gray suggests we can, in the near future, then such a technological advance will mark a day when aging as we know it currently will become something future generations read about in the history books—perhaps in disbelief that it took us so long to think differently about aging.  As The SENS Foundation’s Chief Science Officer, Aubrey de Grey is looking past trying to understand metabolism and its complexities and is interested more in the damage that causes pathology and ways we can do what he calls “maintenance” on our bodies, much like we do on our vehicles to keep the machine running. The general idea is this: keep the body within normal ranges of health before molecular side effects of metabolism (damage) lead to disease and death. This certainly beats geriatrics, where we essentially try to beat back symptoms of aging, to make old age more comfortable, all the while doing next to nothing prior to getting old, when it is then too late to repair years of damage.

Comedian Joe Rogan used to say “what are you going to live forever?” in various comedy bits as a way to remind people that our time is indeed finite and we should live our lives without fear. What’s the point of continually maintaining our safety, and avoiding risk, when we all inevitably die? One day we will expire and if we live to be old and can no longer work or play, we’ll reflect back on our lives and wish we would have done more; been kind to others and ourselves; we’ll wish we hadn’t been scared of ridicule, failure, or even success, while pondering thoughts of sadness and joy. That which gives each individual purpose and joy, should be addressed, and a decision made, now, then pursued and put into action. Remember, no one lives forever—at least not yet. It’s going to take the same mindset we have as consumers of technology to translate into us using technologies we can embrace and extend our age, no longer only thinking of technology as gadgets used to make our current life more convenient.

I’m Gonna be Dead Someday, the name of a comedy CD Joe Rogan released in 2000, is a  statement, one you inherently believe, much like the sky is blue. People once scoffed at the idea the earth may in fact be round. Maybe dying is our current flat earth theory—one that at the moment seems logical—only in the near future, considered to be a punch line for old ways of thinking.

Peter Diamandis, Chairman and CEO of the  X-Prize Foundation, and Chairman of Singularity University, talks about our society being adverse to risk taking. He says, “a true breakthrough requires tremendous levels of risk.”  Our gadgets undoubtedly make life easier, productive and more fun. Although the majority of consumers  do not look at technology as anything other than entertainment and certainly not in terms of  how technology can be used to extend human life, but more in terms of the next toy or form of entertainment. But most of us aren’t explorers, pioneers or inventors and we’re not thinking of ways to break out of current paradigms. And I can’t think of a more obvious paradigm than aging to analyze and make steady process toward living healthier, longer, and eventually, forever.

~ by dustynostrils on December 6, 2012.

One Response to “Living Forever Might be an Option”

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